KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett has some thoughts on what the 2020-21 high school sporting year may look like. He, like everyone else, is short on certainty.
“The virus is in control. We do not know,” Tackett said in a Zoom press conference on Friday afternoon. “And for us to sit here on May 8 and say, ‘Here’s what we’re gonna do on June 20,’ it’s probably not realistic to say with any surety that we’re definitely gonna play, or definitely not. But I feel a whole lot better than I did a week ago with some of the things nationally and statewide, as far as options.”
Tackett addressed statewide media electronically a day after Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced that low-contact, outdoor youth sports could tentatively resume June 15 as part of Phase 2 of his plan to reopen the commonwealth’s society and economy from directives to stay at home for nearly two months.
That could be viewed as impending relief from restrictions to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost KHSAA stakeholders the 2020 Sweet Sixteen basketball tournaments and spring sports season.
But Tackett cautioned that because the need for social distancing has not expired and might not any time soon, the KHSAA must still account for it. And that throws into question how, when and if the sporting calendar will resume in the fall.
“Our state football finals, we think it’s a fantastic crowd if we get 8 to 9,000,” Tackett said. “You get that in (a) 60,000 (-seat stadium) and socially distance, you can play that in a big stadium. What if I have a stadium that’s got 800 seats and it’s a county rivalry and I’ve got 900 that bought tickets? That happens too.
“What you don’t want to do is get in a position where you’re putting out guidance and saying, ‘Buyer beware, do what you want to.’ You really want to be trying to lead people down the right path. That’s why sports will be later than business getting started.”
Tackett also noted that the KHSAA regards the term “youth sports” as being younger than middle school and said the association has reached out for clarification on the governor’s use of the terms “youth” and “low-contact” and how the term “outdoor” is being applied.
Thought the novel coronavirus doesn’t appear to target high-school-aged people, the KHSAA won’t make decisions based strictly on that fact, Tackett said. The highly contagious nature of the virus, its impact on other sectors of society and the fact not all carriers exhibit symptoms make that impossible.
“Personally, as I look at it, our playing audience isn’t necessarily the target audience of the virus most of the time,” Tackett said. “Now it is sometimes, but I am worried about who they take it to, and coaches that they take it to. Does that interaction between a coach and their player on the sideline suddenly infect the coach when the player never had symptoms? We’ve gotta think like that until we get an answer to this virus.”
Because football is far and away the most prominent fall sport, it has drawn most of the attention going forward. But Tackett said what happens on the gridiron isn’t necessarily a bellwether for all fall sports, in part because of individual sports’ inherent differences.
“Football has an allowance for July 10 where they can play some 7-on-7. I’m not optimistic at all about that,” Tackett said. “It’s kind of intuitive, I would hope, that we could probably do golf before we could do football. We could probably do cross country with a certain-sized meet before we could do soccer. And I think those individual decisions will be made, and of course the whole air quality thing in the gyms with volleyball will have to be addressed by the health people.”
Football is a money-making engine for many schools and also for the KHSAA, though, and while Tackett said that won’t be the be-all, end-all, it looms over many other aspects of school sports budgets. It’s also part of why the KHSAA will consider moving the date of the state finals back within reason, pending Kroger Field’s availability and winter weather, if necessary as part of an everything-is-on-the-table approach.
“Lost in all of this is the economic impact of the football season for our high schools,” Tackett said. “That can’t drive decisions; it has to be a factor. We have a number of schools that when we have realignment, these administrators aren’t necessarily as concerned that somebody might get beat 40. They’re real concerned if they don’t get five gates, and they need to make sure that they can have five gates’ worth of revenue, because that might pay for their tennis team and their cross country team.”
Other factors are in play, too: a reporter asked Tackett how important high school sports are in the return to normalcy, in comparison to the billions of dollars that may be generated in getting college and professional sports back off the ground.
“It’s important for a totally different reason,” Tackett said. “It’s important to a community. It’s important to society getting back to some feeling of normalcy. It may be in some areas important for revenue. That’s not the highest priority.
“I think that at this particular point, the money is the secondary issue. It’s very, very important to get society moving again and get interaction going again, even if you’re no longer walking up and shaking hands and bro-hugging and all this other stuff. Even if you can’t do that for a while, it’s important to get society back together. That’s the very advantage of American interscholastic sport that no other country has, is what it does in the communities. ... We feel like we are a contributing block to getting the normalcy back, much more so than an inhibiting block.”
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